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Alan Bennett's Talking Heads at Rugby's Fringe Festival

The three directors: L-R: Ash Hirons, Wendy Goulstone, Steve Orton. Photos courtesy of Rugby Theatre.

As the Rugby Fringe Festival continues throughout the week, last night and tonight, the 21 – 22 May sees Alan Bennett’s iconic Talking Heads monologues brought to the Rugby stage.

Review by Ann Evans.


Her Big Chance was first up, directed by Ash Hirons, and performed by Emma-Louise Marshall, who audiences might remember from her outstanding role as Ruth Ellis in Rugby Theatre’s earlier production of The Thrill of Love.


Emma plays a very different role in Her Big Chance. Here she plays Lesley, a novice and gullible actress who lands what she thinks is her dream film job on a yacht. This is a bright and optimistic Emma who delights in relating her anecdotes about the men she meets, what they ask of her – and what she chooses to do.

Emma-Louise Marshall. Photo courtesy of Rugby Theatre.


There’s lots of humour and movement as Emma brings the character of Lesley to life as well as her mimicking the conversations with those film people – putting on the accents and mannerisms of each one.


It’s a simple but effective set with just a chair and a dressing table, and her costumes in 3 out of 4 scenes being just a dressing gown and bare feet. It’s an excellent word perfect performance by Emma-Louise Marshall and a great start to this evening of monologues.

Andy McCallum. Photo courtesy of Rugby Theatre.


After a short interval, it was A Chip in the Sugar, directed by Steve Orton and starring Andy McCallum who plays Graham Whittaker, a middle-aged repressed homosexual who still lives at home with his mother.


Life is ambling along and all going fine until mum Vera Whittaker bumps into an old flame – Frank Turnbull and they start seeing one another. After a whirlwind romance, Frank proposes to Vera and it’s suggested that Graham move out of his childhood home and into a hostel, which ruffles Graham’s feathers somewhat.


But he’s worrying over nothing, as Frank is stringing a number of ladies along – and is actually married. It’s a sad ending for Vera, who we clearly see and hear through Graham’s eyes. But for Graham, it’s happily back to the normal – if rather dull life that he’s used to. A good performance by Andy McCallum who portrays the character of Graham with humour and sensitivity.

In the theatre foyer. Photo by Ann Evans.


Another break, and it’s onto the third play of the evening. This was, A Cream Cracker Under the Settee, directed by Wendy Goulstone. Here we meet Doris, a 75-year-old widow, played by Debbie Hibberd who is feeling her age, and struggling with numbness in her leg and a great sadness as she looks back over her life.


As Doris recalls happy and sad times, in particular when her husband Wilfred was alive, we see her health gradually deteriorating. At first she’s on her settee but before long, she’s slipped onto the floor where she finds a cream cracker under the settee – ironic as she’d been irately contemplating people’s opinions on her ability to look after herself. Unable to get onto her feet, Doris remains on the floor as the memories flood through her mind. In particular the heartbreak of losing a baby when she was young.

Debbie Hibberd. Photo courtesy of Rugby Theatre.


It’s a moving and emotional performance by Debbie Hibberd who drags herself to the front door in order to raise the alarm, but then returns to her position by the settee, and when help does come, she seems to no longer want it. The ending seems inevitable and quite heartbreaking.  It was good to see Debbie standing at the end and taking a well earned bow as the audience applauded her excellent and realistic portrayal of Doris.


Altogether an interesting evening’s entertainment by Alan Bennett, so if he’s a favourite playwright of yours, there’s still time to book your seat at the second performance this evening, Wednesday 22 May.


Rugby Theatre’s Fringe Week continues until 26 May. For more details and to book tickets call the theatre box office on 01788 541234, or visit:  




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